Teenager's death puts focus on LA's rave parties

July 2, 2010 7:28:28 PM PDT
More than 180,000 people packed into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum over two days for a rave party that featured spectacular light shows, pulsating techno music on stages the size of small buildings - and a lot of bad drug trips.

The suspected overdose death of a 15-year girl and the scores of injuries in the mayhem that resulted when people tried to force their way closer to the event's five stages have cast a critical spotlight on what has become a trend, particularly in Southern California, of mega-raves.

Some critics have come forward to complain that raves are nothing more than open-air drug bazaars where tragedy is waiting to happen. Those who follow raves say officials should concentrate on learning from what happened last weekend in Los Angeles and strive to make them safer.

The body that operates the publicly owned Coliseum will meet July 16 to determine whether it should extend a temporary ban it placed on such events after what happened at the Electric Daisy Carnival.

The event attracted a crowd the size of a medium-sized city and is arguably the biggest event of its kind. But raves overall do seem to be growing in size and scale - a recipe for trouble.

Some 45,000 people attended a New Year's Eve event at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena where one person died and numerous drug overdoses were reported. In suburban Inglewood, last year's annual Hard Summer music-dance party drew more than 18,000 people, including several hundred gatecrashers who prompted police to shut the event down when a riot ensued.

Part of the reason for the bigger crowds is that rave music has attracted a wider audience as more mainstream performers, like Akon and the Black Eyed Peas, have begun to work with prominent dance music DJs like David Guetta, said Joshua Glazer, editor-in-chief of URB Magazine, which follows the emergent music scene.

It hasn't hurt, either, he said, that the light shows at the larger venues have become nothing short of "mind-boggling."

"They've gone beyond, not just musically, but visually anything that has been done before," he said of shows like last weekend's gigantic Electric Daisy Carnival. "There was a stage there six to eight stories tall that was just a giant LED screen like nothing I'd ever seen before."

That seems to have contributed to the show's troubles.

As dusk fell and stages began to explode in spectacular bursts of light, thousands attempted to move from the Coliseum's bleacher seats to the already crowded field for a closer look. Among them was Ben Waldow, a 17-year-old artist from Beverly Hills.

"When I saw people pushing people around to get to the bottom stage area, and actually crawling over people, I got my girlfriend and my friend out of there as soon as I could," he said.

They escaped unhurt but more than 100 people were taken to hospitals for everything from drug overdoses to being battered and trampled by the crowd. Among them was 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez, who was attending her first rave when she collapsed.

A friend who tried to shield her said others stepped on them before Rodriguez was taken to a hospital, where she was treated for drug intoxication. She died Tuesday.

Many ravers take Ecstasy or smoke marijuana to heighten the experience. Waldow said he spoke to one person at the event who had taken ketamine, an anesthetic used by veterinarians and pediatricians that produces a euphoric high but can be fatal when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. Waldow says he does not do drugs.

John Lieberman, director of operations at the Visions Adolescent Treatment Center in Malibu, says it's been clearly established that raves, aside from providing music, function as drug-dealing centers and adolescents should simply be banned from them.

The Electric Daisy Carnival had an age requirement of 16 or older, but witnesses have said they never saw anyone checking IDs. The event's promoter has promised an investigation.

Other people expressed concerns that some raves have simply gotten too big to control.

"When I started going they were nothing like a hundred thousand people. It was maybe a couple thousand at the most," said Ellen Komp, a former member of a task force that worked with the San Francisco Department of Public Health in establishing safety standards for raves in the city in the early 2000s.

"I don't know how you could possibly deal with something that big," she said of a two-day crowd of 180,000.

Glazer thinks such large events can be pulled off safely with the proper planning. He also gave credit to the Electric Daisy Carnival's promoters for trying, noting they had separated the field area with a pair of 8 foot fences to keep too many people from jamming the field.

As numerous videos posted on Youtube show, ravers simply climbed over them.

"Certainly in retrospect, a lot of things could have been done differently," he said.

After the trouble, Glazer published on his website a list of six suggestions for the future.

Among them were providing information on the dangers of patronizing drug vendors; banning anyone under 18 from attending; securing the venue better; and hiring better security guards, not like the one someone from his magazine said they saw get in a fight with a patron.

It won't be long until the next big Los Angeles rave has a chance to put those recommendations into action.

The Hard Summer show that police broke up last year is coming to a state park on the edge of downtown Los Angeles on July 17 and about 27,000 people are expected to attend.

The show will not be covered by the moratorium to be discussed by the Coliseum authority July 16.


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